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CITIES IN A GLOBALIZING WORLD:
GLOBAL REPORT ON HUMAN SETTLEMENTS 2001

Published for the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) by
Earthscan Publications Ltd., London, 2001
Pb 20 ISBN 1-85383-806-3 June 2001
Hb 55 ISBN 1-85383-805-5
350 pages

Reviewed by Rasna Warah

The world has entered the urban millennium. Almost half the world's population lives in urban areas, and the rapid increase in urban population is expected to continue, especially in developing countries. The powerful forces of globalization are further propelling this historic transition. The central challenge of the 21st century will be how to make both urbanization and globalization work for all the world's people, instead of leaving billions behind.

Cities in a Globalizing World: Global Report on Human Settlements 2001 is a comprehensive assessment of the world's cities in the context of globalization. The Report argues that globalization and urbanization have a symbiotic relationship: the characteristics of cities help shape - and promote - globalization. In fact, global forces are centred in cities. Cities provide the infrastructure and labour on which globalization depends, as well as the innovative ideas that result from intense urban activities.

On the other hand, the impact of globalization is most acutely felt in cities. The global economy has changed the structure of employment and altered the demographic make-up of cities. Globalization has also placed cities in a highly competitive framework of inter-city linkages and networks. Sometimes referred to as "the urban archipelago", these globally networked cities act as energy nodes in a global force field. As global forces increasingly mediate the economic base of cities, the critical nexus between cities and globalization will only strengthen, says the Report.

Divided Cities

However, Cities in a Globalizing World cautions that technology-driven options for growth and development - which spur globalization - have led to more lines of stratification between people, places and groups. While cities need to increasingly operate as territorial units if they are to compete effectively in a global economy, globalization has, in fact, led to increased fragmentation of cities - socially, economically and physically.

In other words, the costs and benefits of globalization are unevenly distributed between and within cities. Homeless people are living in cardboard boxes on sidewalks of gleaming corporate skyscrapers whose budgets exceed those of many countries. Enclaves of "super-connected" people, firms and institutions - with their increasing broadband connections to the world via the Internet, mobile phones and satellite dishes - exist cheek-by-jowl with large numbers of people who have never even made a phone call. The social and economic cores and peripheries of the global information age and the global economy are not only continents apart but can now also be found geographically adjacent to each other in individual cities.

The Report, the third in a series produced by UNCHS (Habitat) shows that in many countries, urban poverty is a growing problem as real incomes fall and the costs of living go up. In some cities - both in developed and developing countries -- real estate costs have skyrocketed, pushing middle and lower income groups to the fringes of the city. This has led to the creation of "enclaves of poverty" on the urban periphery and in the inner city.

Cities Localize Democratic Processes

The up side to the globalization-urbanization nexus is that it has opened up new political spaces in which the poor and excluded can engage in different forms of social organization. The critical mass of people in cities and their proximity to urban-based political and social institutions and to information networks facilitates the organization of social movements. This is reflected in the various urban-based civil society organizations and pressure groups around the world.

The Report argues that cities localize democratic processes in ways global and national institutions can not. Globalization has created an apparent paradox where polity - the condition of civil order - is simultaneously becoming more global and more local. Far from exerting a deterministic, homogenizing effect, global forces allow for local differentiation. Local responses to global forces are often found in cities. "Glocalization" - the hybrid economic, political and cultural structures and processes associated with the growing interdependence of local and global forces - creates the possibility of a new type of grassroots politics.

Ironically, globalization has nurtured, rather than destroyed, the organizational capacity of the poor. The Report shows that while the urban poor may have little influence over global economic forces, they are taking an increasingly active role as agents of their own development. Where banks do not lend to them, they save and lend to each other; where no housing is available, they build their own shelter; where no education is provided, they teach each other. In some cases, the formidable strength of organized movements of the urban poor has managed to influence national and international policies. In this regard, the Report calls for better appreciation of policies that support the poor and which let them develop their full potential.

New Ways of Managing Cities

Cities in a Globalizing World acknowledges that existing approaches do not effectively address urgent problems of access to adequate housing, infrastructure and basic services and recognizes that many current developments are not only harmful to the poor but are also detrimental to the long-term sustainability of cities. It, therefore, calls for new ways of managing and governing cities. In this regard, local governments have a crucial role to play in facilitating decision-making and mediating the divergent needs of business and organized elements of civil society. The Report identifies four new elements of urban governance that have emerged in the last decade. These are:

a) decentralization (devolution of power and resources from central to local governments);
b) civil society participation in policy-making (e.g. city consultations with urban stakeholders);
c) multi-level governance and partnerships (public, private and civil society institutions joining forces to resolve urban problems); and
d) process-driven and territorially based decision-making and policies (the development of regional blocs and area-based initiatives).

Cities and towns hold the potential to maximize the benefits and offset the negative consequences of globalization. Well-managed cities can provide an economic environment capable of generating employment opportunities as well as offering a diversity of goods and services. However, market forces, which currently dominate globalization processes, do not sufficiently address the needs of vulnerable sections of society. Globalization must, therefore, serve others goals besides economic growth if it is to benefit all sections of society, says the Report.

One of the key messages of the Report is that social justice and environmental sustainability in cities can only be advanced if cities are viewed not as "engines of growth", but as "agents of change". This requires new political strategies for urban livability and new forms of governance. The change would involve reconstituting relationships between the public and private sectors and civil society through the formation of broad-based cooperative partnerships. The challenge is to ensure that the fruits of globalization are shared more equally.

Notwithstanding the so-called "hollowing of the state", the Report underscores the importance of central governments in ensuring sustainability and equity in cities. Central governments hold crucial powers, not only in terms of setting development goals and agendas, but also in strategic planning. Where local actors prove to be incapable or dysfunctional, the state must act as watchdog, safeguarding the interests of marginalized and vulnerable sections of society, particularly women and the poor. While national governments must facilitate the functioning of global markets and forces, they must also take responsibility for social cohesion, justice and conflict resolution in cities. In the long run, concludes the Report, governments have the ultimate responsibility of managing the benefits and mitigating the risks of globalization.

Cities in a Globalizing World is an authoritative assessment of the two most significant forces shaping the world today. It is essential reading for all those interested in ensuring that urbanization and globalization are positive forces of development in the 21st century.

To order, write to:

Earthscan Publications Ltd.
120 Pentonville Road
London, N1 9JN
United Kingdom
Tel: (44) (0) 20 7278 0433
Fax: (44) (0) 20 7278 1142
E-mail: earthinfo@earthscan.co.uk
Web site: www.earthscan.co.uk

 

 

 
2001 UNCHS